Creating the best conditions for our learners to release their agency and exercise their I CAN power is about committing to co-creating a healthy learning ecosystem where learners feel intrinsically motivated.
Based on the Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 1985), there are three universal essential needs that we need to satisfy in order to be intrinsically motivated. Those three components are extremely useful to teachers because those have the potential to change our students’ life by contributing to better learning outcomes and better wellness.
We cannot learn if we are not connected to ourselves and others and when we don’t feel that we are cared for. We cannot learn if we are not in a safe physical, social and emotional environment.
When our learners feel safe, they can throw themselves into the unexpected, into the “not knowing yet” zone. The learning zone is always a bit uncomfortable. To engage students in a trial and error process, they need to feel that they can take risks, make mistakes and bounce back without being judged.
Relatedness is also moving from class management (that is done to students) to building a community where all learners belong and care for one another. Where the teacher is a partner in learning and where building relationships is essential.
Developing a culture of I CAN is always about teaching up from where students are. It’s never about lowering expectations or dumbing down. Everyone has a need to feel effective and successful or to feel the possibility of success.
In other words, it’s about self-efficacy and this feeling can only emerge when high expectations come with high support, when learners are able to access their internal resources. If it’s too easy or too hard, we won’t be in the learning zone. This zone varies for each learner so we personalise, we exercise flexibility and scaffold learning. One of the ways to ensure all learners can access their I CAN power is to design learning to the edges because average is a myth and seldom serves anyone. Educators today aren’t mere facilitators, they are “learning coaches” who activate learning with situations they intentionally design, with questions they generate with learners or feedback they provide. They don’t interfere or control the process but find the sweet stop so learners can access and practice new learnings and reach a transfer stage where learning is retained (not memorized).
Students eventually need to be in control of their learning power to truly empower themselves. The most popular idea here is choice: for example, choosing what learning experiences to take part of, choosing how to demonstrate learning, choosing a role within a team. But students also need to advocate for themselves so that they contribute their ideas.
Here, the sense of control is actually even more important than the control itself. Learners know themselves best so we should trust them in their capacity to direct themselves and to make decisions about their learning.
This part is really hard for us because it involves letting go of some or a lot of our control within our ecosystem to let come of the new and the new is unpredictable.
Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1985) Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Publishing Co.